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The True Story of Jean Hilliard Who was Frozen Solid and Fully Recovered

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Jean HIlliard

Jean HIlliard

Jean Hilliard says she doesn't remember much about the events of December 20, 1980. The 19-year-old Hilliard had been traveling down a rural road in Minnesota when her car hit a patch of ice and slid into a ditch. She decided to leave the car and try to walk to get help. Hilliard made it as far as the front of her friend Wally Nelson's home. Nelson was a local cattle rancher. She tripped and fell. Hilliard then crawled on her hands and knees to the doorstep. The next morning, she was discovered in the front yard by Nelson. Hilliard was frozen solid with her eyes open.

Meeting Friends

Hilliard had gone into a local town the previous night to meet with some of her friends. She had spent the evening at the Fosston American Legion. It was a common spot for young people to meet and spend time together. Hilliard was driving her father's Ford LTD. It only had rear-wheel drive and didn't have anti-lock brakes. This is not a vehicle designed to successfully navigate icy rural roads.

Hilliard's vehicle in ditch

Hilliard's vehicle in ditch

Discovering Hilliard

Nelson knew Hilliard pretty well. She was dating his best friend named Paul. Nelson had been at the previous night's gathering at Fosston American Legion. The morning he discovered Hilliard is something that has never left his mind. He was surprised when he opened the door in the morning and noticed something at the front of his house. Nelson was shocked when he realized it was Hilliard, and she was frozen solid. He grabbed her by the collar and carefully moved her to his porch. Nelson was convinced she was dead. He remembers seeing a few bubbles come from her nose.

Wally Nelson today

Wally Nelson today


Hilliard's was so stiff that Nelson and his friend could not place her body in the cab of his pickup truck. They were forced to take his friend's vehicle instead. Nelson and his friend carefully put Hillard into the vehicle and drove her to the nearest hospital. The hospital was located in Fosston which was approximately a 10 minute drive away from Nelson's home. The physicians who initially saw Hilliard's condition did not believe that she had any chance of survival. Hilliard's skin was frozen so solid they were unable to pierce it with a hypodermic needle. The needles they used would break on contact. Her body temperature was so low that they couldn't get a reading from a thermometer. Hilliard's eyes didn't respond to any changes in light and her face was an ashen-gray color. The medical staff decided to gradually warm Hilliard's body with heating pads even though they believed she was dead. Doctors eventually determined Hilliard's temperature was 88 degrees. This is 10 degrees less than what is considered normal. After waiting some time, the medical staff detected a faint pulse. It was only 12 beats per minute, but doctors believed it was possible that Hillard was actually still alive. The attending physician believed she was dead, but he heard a faint whimper. He realized this person was fighting for their life.

Waking Up

The reactions by Hillard did not begin to appear for approximately three hours after she began thawing out. By the middle of the morning, Hillard woke up. She was having a muscle spasm. Around noon, Hillard was able to engage in coherent speech. She was concerned about what her father would do when he learned she had wrecked his Ford LTD. Hillard told people it felt as if she had simply fallen asleep and awoken in a hospital.

Newspaper article about Jean HIlliard

Newspaper article about Jean HIlliard

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National News

When other similar cases have occurred, the patients have had physical damage or a permanent injury. Hilliard was able to return home that day with nothing more than toes that had blisters. They felt numb to her for a while. News of her miracle recovery spread fast. Many people wanted to speak with her about her unique experience. Hilliard gave talks at many local churches. She was even flown to New York City to tell her story on talk shows. Hilliard was often labeled as “The Miracle Girl from Lenby, Minnesota.” She was interviewed by Tom Brokaw and was on the “Today Show.” Hilliard was even featured in an episode of the television show “Unsolved Mysteries.”

Jean Hilliard today

Jean Hilliard today

Back to Normal

All the intense attention she was getting slowly wound down after a few months. It seems the experience of surviving being frozen solid didn't alter her life's trajectory. Hilliard got married and had kids. She later divorced. Hilliard works at Walmart and lives in Cambridge, Minnesota. She experienced no health issues from her experience.

When Hilliard recounts her experience, she tells people she didn't see a light or anything like it. This was a little disappointing for her. Many people talk about this and seem upset when she tells them she saw no light or anything else most people have during a near-death experience. Hilliard no longer spends time thinking about that night in 1980 that has gotten her so much attention. She is quick to tell people she now wears all the clothing necessary to be warm outside in the winter and won't drive at night on icy back roads.



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